Gunnar Rice

Gunnar Rice

I entered Princeton, no doubt like many students interested in the humanities, torn between history and literature. Though I managed to study both in the Humanities Sequence during the fall of my freshman year, I noticed in the spring that courses in history—the department in which I first considered concentrating—weren’t as literary as I’d hoped. When I enrolled in an English Department course on Shakespeare the next fall, I was hoping to learn not only about his plays, but also about his times, his contemporaries, his context(s). I was not disappointed. Historically-minded reading, I soon found, wasn’t only permitted in the English Department, but actively encouraged by a faculty whose flexibility amazed me then and has amazed me ever since. During my three years in the English Department, I felt free to be as interdisciplinary in my class work and independent research as I wanted—reading literature in contexts not only historical, but also political, visual, even scientific. In one course, I studied nineteenth-century English fiction in the context of contemporary visual art. In another, I considered Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from what seemed like every possible angle (from Darwin to sexuality to genome editing). In my senior thesis, I read three of Shakespeare’s plays alongside Renaissance cartography I first encountered during a summer of department-funded research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. When I committed to live in a residential community composed of artists from various departments and backgrounds in my junior year, I did so with the confidence of an English concentrator already used to thinking broadly and uninhibitedly across disciplines and time.